New Art: Clusterbomb @ Patriothall Gallery, Stockbridge

This is my review of Clusterbomb at Patriothall Gallery WASPS for The Skinny. 3 Stars!

Notwithstanding the occasional guidebook erroneously, and rather hilariously, describing Stockbridge as ‘bohemian’, it’s probably fair to say that the area’s art scene is bland and commercially focused. That’s why this independent exhibition of drawings and paintings by Edinburgh College of Art graduates should be particularly welcomed.

The unifying concern – ‘the excessive clustering of imagery’ – is simple and there is no burdening the visitor with spoon-fed textual reflection. This decision has worked out well for Clusterbomb: many of the paintings are so replete with lively symbolism and tackle such thoroughly contemporary referents, from kebabs to Lego, that formal explanation is unnecessary.

Emergent themes are food supply, violence, fear and waste culture. Matt Swan’s Anonymous Dorito Henchman with a Green Cape showcases the inventive mix of fast food, vanity and pure fantasy that makes up his bizarre and intriguing work. Jamie Kinroy tackles the stress and breakdown of social life in the face of consumerist capitalism, and in the likes of Hard Times 2 his use of colour and logo echoes multinational corporations.

Bobby Nixon’s Black Paintings convey the growing sense of fear in the contemporary urban environment, again referencing the logos and junk food that are staples in the big city. John Brown’s playful deconstruction of bodily parts in Twitland complements the more serious contributions.

Contrasting with all this detritus and dysfunction is Alex Gibbs’ lonely Suburban Living, With Trees, whose clinical, manipulated landscape still hints that we are looking at the other side of the same coin of human agency.

There is more that can be done here in terms of refining the concept and honing the various responses, but this is nevertheless a good, low-budget exhibition from promising new artists. Clusterbomb’s inventiveness and critical engagement with contemporary themes is admirable and the show is certainly worth seeing.

Turner in January: some thoughts on the Vaughan Bequest exhibition, Edinburgh

Odd things happen artwise in Edinburgh (and I suppose in Dublin and London) in January.

Some years it’s difficult to decide whether the Vaughan bequest of 38 of Turner’s watercolours and sketches is a blessing or a curse for the National Galleries.  On the one hand, surely this is perfect, conservationist ‘Cream Egg Syndrome’: once a year, strictly exclusive to January, and for the rest of the time we’re supposedly left wanting.  On the other hand, despite its mandatory brevity, this exhibition has a perennial tendency to be repetitive and incentive to do anything interesting with it is potentially lacking.

2011’s Turner is in the exhibition space downstairs by the Scottish collection.  This soporific bunker doesn’t lend itself favourably to the appreciation of art at the best of times and the Turners are exhibited in vaguely chronological order without significant curatorial invention.  However, one of the twists of the bequest itself is that Vaughan collected the works with the intention of representing all the main periods of Turner’s artistic development, and he passed these pieces on to Edinburgh with the same thought.  What results is a coherent collection of sketches and paintings which makes sense as a set, so we may forgive the National Galleries’ staff for keeping their interpretation largely in the background.

Best known among the collection are probably the energetic, lightening-emblazoned watercolour The Piazzetta, Venice (pictured) and the endlessly absorbing, ethereal Heidelberg.  But other highlights include the study of colour relationships in Harbour View and the breathtaking little watercolour Loch Coruisk, and among his blue and grey wash sketches, Lake Albano.

You can’t help but feel for the curators having to roll these works out year upon year in January, and a certain fatigue seems evident.  But this doesn’t stop Turner in January from being one of the quirkily fabulous treats of the Edinburgh calendar.

You have until 31st January (or you’ll have to wait 11 months!)

Childish Things at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

The theme of this second collaboration between The Fruitmarket Gallery and curator and scholar David Hopkins is undoubtedly seasonally appropriate.  Just as the joy of a childhood Christmas can have a dark underside, so Childish Things scrutinises the process of children’s play through its artefacts and reveals a disturbing picture indeed.

Rooted in Dada and Surrealism, this powerful exhibition explores its theme through several media, drawing on the physicality of play, whether the interactive play of a puppet show, the artist’s ‘playing’ with the medium of film, or toys themselves.  But crucially, Childish Things acknowledges the embeddedness of play in our social and psychological worlds, to complex and disturbing effect.

The toy-like pieces exhibited range from found objects such as Paul McCarthy’s Children’s Anatomical Educational Figure to stitched doll-like figures in Louise Bourgeois’s narrative piece Oedipus.  Jeff Koons’s Bear and Policeman is striking in its reproduction of a junk shop knick-knack in exquisite, monumental scale.  Decontextualized, the piece is imbued with a garish menace and the original impressions of friendship and cooperation are lost to ambiguity and threat.  Susan Hiller’s An Entertainment, a large-scale, four-screen projection of recordings of Punch and Judy shows, places the viewer within the frightening, abusive world of the show with terrifying results.

If Childish Things has the propensity to draw out the uncertainty, darkness and even violence of childhood, then there is redemption of sorts in Helen Chadwick’s Ego Geometrica Sum.  Chadwick’s work harmonises the artist’s body with objects and shapes from her life in a consciously geometric fashion, rationalising and ordering seminal personal experiences. 

It would be wrong to say that Childish Things is predominantly dark.  As appropriate to its subject matter, there is a great sense of energetic fun.  Don’t be afraid to see it; just be prepared to scratch the surface a little.

Review of Edinburgh Art Fair

This piece was first published on The Skinny‘s website, 1st December 2010.  There are lots more art previews, features and reviews there.

The dilemma with the likes of the Louvre, MoMA and the Vatican is that one is so bombarded with masterpieces that perspective is easily lost. How many Caravaggios or Warhols is it possible to meaningfully digest in an afternoon’s ramble? Like listening to ten great operas simultaneously, it’s fabulous white noise.

Edinburgh Art Fair also overloads, but lacks masterpieces. The fair is a chance for commercial galleries to showcase their collections and ideally make a few sales. But it’s easy to see how the commercial focus hinders meaningful engagement with art.

With an impressive sixty-five galleries exhibiting the work of over a thousand artists, most galleries have brought the optimum mix of works for commercial purposes. There is often little coherence within a single gallery’s stand, never mind throughout the event as a whole. Lack of context tends to drown individual pieces and an unfortunate result of the aesthetic overload is a tendency for more garish, ridiculous works to stand out.

Conversely, Glasgow School of Art graduate Ryan Mutter’s three paintings grab attention precisely because of their paucity of colour. Exhibited by the Contemporary Fine Art Gallery Eton, War Machine (pictures) shows a darker side to Mutter’s interest in Glasgow’s industrial past. The same gallery also brings us several of Peter Howson’s paintings, similarly interested in industrial society but on an individual, idiosyncratic level, contrasting with the impersonal gigantism of Mutter’s featured works.

The near-ubiquitous Ronnie Wood’s nostalgic rock scenes make an appearance, and at Peebles’ Breeze Gallery Bob Harper isn’t far behind with more intimate celebrity visages.

Overall, the fair leaves you feeling aesthetically starved. Perhaps this is the overload effect. It’s surely also due to the fact that events like this often seem less about art and more about interior design, business talk and Chelsea boots.

Edinburgh’s mysterious leaf people

art,Edinburgh — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 12:14 pm

Local Edinburgh news has been alive with curiosity and speculation over the appearance of a number of leaf sculptures along the Water of Leith.  The artist remains unknown, but clearly is playing with our fascination with the 6 Times series of sculptures erected in June by Antony Gormley.  The figures appear to be interacting with Gormley’s sculptures, mirroring the behaviour of hundreds of city walkers since the summer.

The individuals below – the Parent and Child and the Student/Teenager/Homeless Man(?) – all appeared in Stockbridge recently.  People by and large have been charmed by them, but you have to admit there’s something horrifyingly creepy about them too, or at least there will be when they come alive!  Or maybe they used to be alive and they have since been horrifyingly transformed into a mute, leafy prison.

Leaf figures inspecting Gormley in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Okay, I’ve clearly been watching too many horror films to go with the standard ‘happy families’ interpretation.  On a serious note though, this is a welcome addition to the art of the area since Gormley’s contribution.  The honeymoon period with the latter has passed and we’re getting bored.  The leaf figures are the most interesting intervention to date, and there have been several, from bikinis to “I Love Leith” T-shirts.

And, quite frankly, this latest feature is more interesting than Gormley anyway.

Leaf figure by the Water of Leith in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Journalist Wars: the gloves are off

Today’s Edinburgh Evening News carries a story on its cover about Edinburgh Council’s Outlook series of local kinda community newspapers.  Michael Blackley lambastes the freesheets, calling them “propaganda” and rallying local readers to pressure the council to “pulp ‘Pravda’.”  Apparently the populist Evening News would divert the money saved into buying school books for the city’s youth, thus holding the council to ransom by implying some sort of anti-education stance manifested in the publication of the Outlook series.  I must say I find this whole angle particularly right-wing despite its ostensible stance as Defender of the Kiddies’ Maths Books.  The comparison is totally arbitrary.

It’s becoming clear that a huge financial bite will be taken out of UK councils, so all of this may be entirely academic in a year’s time anyway, with Outlook scrapped altogether and an unholy haemorrhaging of the school system looming.

I can’t help feeling like the Evening News is playing spoiled child here, attacking a little brother so, despite said sibling’s revenues coming in a little more easily, from the public purse.  My bias is that I’d like to see as many publications as possible because I’d like to have as many writing options as possible!  And I’m sure all the good chappies working for Outlook will be delighted to see this little ‘Scottish Kiss’ from the Evening News which effectively calls for their outright redundancy.  Happy Humbugging Christmas lads.

Maybe the council should re-evaluate, especially in light of the Cameron-Osborne-Clegg clippers chopping their way northwards, but the Pravda reference irks me to the core.  Public-equals-communist is a lazy, below-the-belt rationale that insults our intelligence.  Great reading!  Am I overreacting?

Unearthing the Bethonged Bond

Wow!  The Scotsman has a treat for us today.  For those of you out there who don’t read it, I can’t possibly pass up the opportunity to share this raunchy ne’er before displayed portrait of a be-thonged, pre-Bond Sean Connery, painted by Rab Webster in the 1950s.  During this period, Connery was a struggling actor who apparently posed to help pay the bills.  Webster, who died last month, was an art teacher at Selkirk High School, where Connery was an occasional life model for students.  If you don’t mind me saying so, that must have been one exciting high school!

It’s interesting to notice (to say the least) Connery’s fine musculature, and it’s striking from this that even by today’s personal-trainer-induced Daniel Craig-ish chunky standards, this Connery would evidently still breeze into the role of Bond.  I wonder how long it took Craig to work his body up to the standard set by Connery for the role.

The impressive physique is apparently due to Connery’s taking up body building as a hobby around the time when he was posing for this portrait.

Needless to say, Robert Fairbairn’s piece on the painting in today’s Scotsman is littered with hilarious Bond-themed double entendre.  Allow me to add my own honest contribution:

The Thong is not Enough!

(Please insert your own Bond/Thong response below)

The Ghoulish Week that Was in Edinburgh

Last week was an exhilarating and alarming week in Edinburgh.  Most of the politicos and journos were over in Glasgow for the Scottish Labour Party conference for the second half of it.  This exodus of supposed leftists and vigilant political commentators seems to have left the place unguarded for a number of deleterious developments in Auld Reekie’s cultural life.

No less than three Edinburgh institutions now look set to fall by the wayside in the wake of the bankruptcy of the charity Edinburgh University Settlement.  The charity’s demise has resulted in the forced sale of the premises of The Forest Cafe (pictured), The Roxy Art House and the GRV.  These are surely three venues that will be sorely missed.

The Forest, on Bristo Place, looks set to run for a few more weeks due to a mandatory notice period in their lease, so now’s the time to drop in.  Over the years Forest has provided a multi-function space which houses a café, whole-foods restaurant, venue and the TotalKunst gallery.  I must admit I was never a regular, but it did warm the heart that they were there in the background, staffed only with volunteers, providing free shows, art, and cheap, healthy food.  If you feel strongly about this you should get on to their website, where they’ve launched an earnest campaign to raise a daunting £500K.  If you’re not sure, drop in and have a look at what they do.  This may be your last chance.

The GRV on Guthrie Street was a good old fashioned ‘dive’ in the trendiest sense of the word, and was by no means as idealistic or as well organised as Forest.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this place ended up being opened again along similar lines under different ownership, as I really can’t see many options for the site.  The Roxy, on the other hand, was a fantastic organisation which put on great events in the spirit of supporting new arts and providing cheap nights out.  Sadly, the Roxy’s doors were closed abruptly and permanently last week and there’s no chance of a last hurrah.

On the plus side, I had the pleasure on Halloween night of attending the Wee Folk club, downstairs in the Royal Oak, where Duncan Drever played a wonderful hour and a half of quality music for an audience which seemed to consist of female German students, two old men, and me.  Duncan’s brother is the well-known Scottish folk musician Kris Drever, but Kris shouldn’t rest on his laurels: Duncan is a great up-and-coming act and you can hear a couple of his songs here.

Donate to help the Forest survive here.

Susan Calman’s show is worth a look

Here’s another of  my reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe, first published on The Skinny’s website. Great local act.

As the gathering crowd winds through the Underbelly’s stairways and passages, you can’t help noticing the eclectic mix of people here to see Susan Calman. Her opening lines reveal her readiness to deal with this very mixed crowd indeed, as she energetically quizzes the audience about which of her various jobs – from radio to stand-up – has drawn them to see her at the Fringe.

And from this early point on she has somehow, almost miraculously, drawn the diverse audience together and on she goes through her tight, well-written set, sharing a mock, self-deprecating obituary she’s apparently written for herself while drunkenly reflecting on the course of her life. The gags touch on manners, size-ism, feminism, relationships and the potential comic pitfall of Glasgow.

Glasgow can draw stand-up acts towards well trodden paths and Calman’s show does touch on the usual stuff like alcoholism, stabbings and alarming mortality rates; luckily she also adds her own colouring of the subject. Her audience could have been a difficult one to balance in terms her shock value versus local charm, but she clearly has enough charisma and a lively banter to keep everyone completely entertained.

A show well worth seeing.

Life of Si, or Si-ing to get a job in TV

Life of Si, Si Harder at the GRV, Edinburgh Fringe

This review was first published on The Skinny’s website.  There are lots more reviews of comedy from the Edinburgh Fringe there, and other stuff besides.

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be in a live studio audience? Well, you may just find out with this comic double-act who have been wowing audiences with their combination of live performance and pre-recorded material with some clever interface between the two thrown in.

The show is a collaboration between Simon Feilder and Sy Thomas, a pair of talented, emo-inclined media enthusiasts with bundles of charm and an elusive yellow teapot named Alan. The venue’s comfortable couches and warm atmosphere are skilfully exploited to recreate the pair’s shared flat, lending a sitcom feel to proceedings.

The alternating live and pre-recorded pattern becomes a little repetitive and at times the transition between the two feels awkward. But the duo’s live interaction with the multimedia element of the show evidences potential comic genius and maybe even a TV career or two.

You can’t help wanting to see a little more of the live show and less of the pre-recorded material, but with a quirky take on traditional performer-audience banter and possibly the funniest a cappella impression of contemporary indie music you’re likely to hear, this show is well worth an hour of your time.

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